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Conversation with
Jayaram Poduval

Jayaram Poduval: Most of the catalogues reveal the artist Binoy Verghese since his return from Canada and I am certain that it is merely a singular step in your creative repertoire. I am fascinated to know what made Binoy Verghese the painter. So let me start with a very vital but a routine query. Why did you choose the field of art?

Binoy Varghese: My family was inclined towards art. While visiting my maternal uncle’s house in my childhood I used to enjoy the music and singing by my maternal uncles, one a harmonist and the other a singer. Even my parents showed a great interest in music and art and encouraged me and my siblings to be very active in school competitions. We used to sing devotional songs every evening at home. Neighbors would appreciate and would state next day, “hey Binoy, yesterday it was fantastic”.  Both my elder and younger brothers were very good in singing and the younger one participated in the state level competitions and won prizes. The elder brother was giving the orchestra support to him. He was also a good script writer. During the vacations, he would write ballet scripts and we used to perform it on a make shift stage constructed in the barren tapioca garden.

JP: When did you move away to visual arts?

BV: I was quiet and shy compared to my brothers who were like local superstars. I was a weakling in their performances. May be that led me to divert my attention into art.  While doing pre degree course I got further interested in visual arts.  Then I joined the Fine Arts College in Tripunittura.

JP: Were you doing the course in Painting?

BV: No. I was specialized in commercial arts. The complete dedication to painting happened after finishing the diploma.

JP: So, how did that happen?

BV: Soon after I finished my studies I got an exhibition grant for a solo show from the Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi. I did a collection of prints in the show at their gallery in Kochi. I got the same grant in the next year too; and my exhibition was a series of drawings. These two shows gave me a lot of confidence to progress further. In the same year I got the Madhavan Nair Foundation [MNF] fellowship to work at their then newly established studio at Edapally, Kochi. At the studio I have concentrated entirely on painting and I worked there for a year.

JP: What did you do after moving from MNF?
BV: From the MNF I moved to Cholamandalam artist village near Chennai and stayed there for two years.

JP: What was your next destination?

BV:  While I was in Cholamandalam I got the scholarship to work in Kanoria Art Center in Ahmedabad

JP: So when did you come to Delhi?

In the year 1998 I got a studio space in Delhi and started working for my first solo show at the Academy of Fine Arts and literature.

JP: I think you also worked at Garghi Studios in Delhi, isn’t it?

BV: That was after my trip to Canada. I worked in Garhi for almost three years. I have to mention that those three years were the crucial struggling period of my life. But now when I look back, I can say that those years of struggle made me strong and modest.

JP: When did you start seeing the silver line of future prospect?

BV: It was in 2003 when my work was selected for the Bangladesh Biennale. It was an unexpected break. Then I did a two man show with V Art Gallery and gradually I started my association with Palette Gallery.

JP: When you look back can you see any change in your work?

BV: Definitely. In Kanoria centre and in my early days in Delhi my work was based on intuition. In Canada I worked with photocopies and I was earnestly contemplating about a change.

JP: How did you arrive in the present representational mode?

BV: Once, on my journey from Kerala I was reading Arundhati Roy’s famous novel the
“God of Small things”; the imagery used by the writer really inspired me. My ‘Chorakuzhi’ series is inspired by that book. I think I was treading on the track of performity in the painting. At the same time through the group shows I was experimenting with newer modes of representation. I was planning to make a hundred feet billboard at the AIIMS fly over under the public art project but it did not materialized.

JP: Did you start ideating upon installations only after being established as a painter?

BV: I don’t think so. The idea of installation or alternate art practice came to me when I was in Canada. There I wanted to do something else than painting. I carried a collection of Indian mythological images and there I started making enlargements. I would then work on them and take another impression. Those cannot be called as graphic prints or paintings in the pure sense. Thematically those became provokingly political; while commenting on my exhibition few friends openly inquired if I would ever be able to exhibit them publicly in India. I had expressed my apprehension about it.

JP: Did you ever exhibit them in India?

BV: Well, I had approached some organizations in India, but they were not so keen and their rejection and my disappointment probably urged me to change my style and pulled me back to the mode of painting. That was a kind of self realization.

JP: So you shifted to a highly performative language?

BV: I started looking at the mundane visuals around us like photographs of friends and   pictures I come across in my day to day life in news papers and magazines. I found those as powerful visuals that we hardly notice or empathize. But for me each image was impregnated with a story. Like that of the ‘Scarlet Woman’.

JP: What is the story of Scarlet Woman?

BV: I read the article of a sex worker and probably the title was Scarlet woman. The story shook me intensely and I painted the Scarlet woman and I placed her against a bed of roses.

JP: The present series as I can perceive from the works around us in this studio seem to be focusing on children. Is there any specific reason for that?

BV: I have witnessed the development and construction boom of metros in India especially Delhi in the name of modernization. These developments while accommodating / facilitating a section of society have intentionally or unintentionally displaced many. I used observe them in my sojourns in the city and while visiting my apartment under construction. I could feel their angst of impending eviction as the construction project was approaching its completion. I feel that it’s the same thing that may have happened in the pre modern days where the workers who built the temples, churches, mosques and palaces became pariahs once the structure got sanctified or sanitized. These displaced too may have dreams and stories of their own. My references are those dreams and stories.

JP: Placing the pleasant landscape or pleasantries of nature as backdrop you seem to be enriching their existence to another level which may not be the ‘truthful background’ of their reality.

BV: I agree. It is not an authentic backdrop of their existence. At the same time we can not disregard their dreams and the right to dream. Can we? Placing them in this surreal/dreamy/ideal backdrop I am actually providing them infinite space for dreaming. I focused on displacement and migration as a subject in the earlier series of paintings also.

JP: Were children the prime subjects in that series too?

BV: Yes. Whenever we talk about displacement and migration through natural or man made disasters and the expansion of city for a better future; it is the children and women who become the primary victims. It could be at the war zones of Israel or Afghanistan and the Dam projects in the different parts of India or the people who have lost their lands and hutments in Delhi in the name of development. As I said earlier, I pick up themes from the photographs of these victims and provide them a new backdrop of dreams. A kind of rehabilitation in an ideal landscape…

JP: A promised land of the Old Testament?

BV: I agree that the backdrops at times drastically change the meaning. For example I did a figure of a running girl in a red background. Originally the image came from a story of a train driver narrating about suicides. The photograph was that of a girl running in front of a train. If I use the image as it is, it would limit the meaning as well as hamper freedom of interpretation. I even titled it akin to the Christian funeral hymn which can be translated as ‘I am traveling the chariot of time towards the heaven’. Interestingly for the viewers it carried a positive message. Of course withstanding the title, I hadn’t packed the image with symbolism of death.

JP: So what is your forthcoming show titled as?

BV: Multi-Storeys / Stories. Though dealing with urbanization in this series, I am not referring to it directly. I like to go into the emotional aspect of the urbanization. I think my works tend to get packed with more emotional substance rather than a monotonous reportage.

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